As some of you might know, I’ve been in the writing game seriously for about seven and a half years now. Pretty much exactly my son’s age – his birth really gave me the needed kick in the butt to give writing a proper go. And I really couldn’t imagine it any other way by now.
And boy did I learn a lot of stuff along the way… how to get better at writing, how to navigate the publishing landscape, finding an agent, then discovering this whole other world of self-publishing, the whole process of beta-reading / editing / cover design, and finding the right people for all these steps. And that’s before getting to the perils of self-employment in Germany, taxes, and trying to keep a mental balance. Of course this learning process is ongoing. 😉
For a while I’ve been thinking about sharing the things I’ve learned (and am learning), but I’ve also been struggling with finding a good format for this outpour of ideas. So for now I have decided to just start and give you a rather unfiltered (but hopefully still interesting and helpful) weekly bulletin right here on my blog. I will mainly write about writing (craft book reviews or thoughts on specific concepts) and self-publishing, but these bulletins will also be open to any other topic that crosses my path in that particular week.
So with that I’ll launch right into issue #1 of Sunday Musings: Where to start when you are just beginning to write?
Learning to write – but what first?
As every aspiring writer knows, there are some essential things they should do:
- read a lot (see also the books I read last week below) – there is no better way to learn and be inspired
- write every day (not as easy as it sounds and I think I will devote a whole bulletin to this one in the future
- seek as much feedback as possible and grow a thick skin for feedback of the negative kind
But after a while there comes the point where you simply want to know: how can I get better at my craft? How do I write characters with depth, a plot without holes, and a story that hits all the right beats? And at this point, I would like to tell you a few things about how I started out.
A rocky start
I never studied creative writing as a University course. My undergraduate degree is in Philosophy, which has helped me a great deal within some of my books but does not give you a formal foundation for how to write an engaging story. After graduating, I spent a couple of years teaching English in Germany (to both kids and adults).
At the same time, I started working on my first great novel (without really knowing what I was doing). And after probably a year’s worth of work, it was completed: a fantastic YA novel with four main characters, complete with space travel, shape shifting landscapes and talking thoughts.
It was also completely unreadable.
Nevertheless, I tried to give it my all – so I found a developmental editor to smooth out the wrinkles. Thing was, her report basically amounted to “maybe you should first learn the basics of writing.” And I have to admit, that was quite the shock for my younger author self.
Luckily, this editor–who I’ll be forever grateful to–also gave me a list of books as to where I could start my journey, and these have proven invaluable ever since. I still return to them time and time again. So while there are many other great resources out there, like editors, online and real life courses, or even University degrees, I think every writer needs their library well stocked with craft books for study and reference.
Craft books to kick start your writing skills
In my opinion, there are three kinds of craft books:
- books about one specific topic – like characters, scenes, tension etc. that elaborate on their topic in maximum depth
- general writing craft books – covering all aspects of writing, like story shape
- companion books – this includes general dictionaries, but also special books like an emotion thesaurus
Today I want to share my favorite specific writing books with you, a series that has really helped me to improve certain aspects of my writing. Starting with a focus on one area of writing has helped me to master it faster and in more depth, while I found that general writing craft books (a good example would be The Writers Journey by Christopher Vogler) were more helpful once I had the basics down.
The series I would recommend to start with is “Write Great Fiction”, published by Writer’s Digest Books. It contains five books:
- Plot & Structure, by James Scott Bell
- Description & Setting, by Ron Rozelle
- Dialogue, by Gloria Kempton
- Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint, by Nancy Kress
- Revision & Self-Editing, by James Scott Bell
These books are very accessible for beginning writers as the lay out their topics in a very structured way and uses clear and concise language. The examples are always spot on and relevant, and they are easy to read (I’d even call them “nicely narrated” – not a small feat for a non-fiction book).
The order you read them in depends on the specific area you want to focus on, but I do recommend working through the first four before getting to “Revision & Self-Editing“.
So what craft books helped you the most when you started writing? Did you try the “Write Great Fiction” series? Let me know in the comments!
Fiction reads of the week
Last week I read a really great book, “Vicious” by V.E.Schwab. It’s a superhero fantasy with no good guy in here. Not a single one. A great study of what constitutes right or wrong.
Also, I’m currently reading “The Sea of Monsters” from the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan (or rather I’m reading it to my son, so it’ll last a bit longer). This series is also very enjoyable – great main characters, and the modern take on Greek tales is just pure fun.
Bits & pieces
So that was my first weekly bulletin of hopefully many more to come 😉 I hope you enjoyed it.
Keep on writing, Anyta
Books mentioned in this bulletin:
- You can get a free e-book by signing up for my newsletter
- Disclaimer: All links to books in this article are affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage of the purchase price if you make a purchase using these links. There is no additional cost for you if you purchase the books via these links!
Session #2 – creating a writing system